The Adventures of Charles the Racing Pigeon

So today was another one of those memorable and eventful days at the allotment. As with these days, things started off quietly. I went down to feed the chickens in the main coop, collected four eggs and sorted out their food (tons left) and water (also tons due to the intermittent torrential downpours). I spent a while with them in the coop as I cleaned them out before heading over to Leia and the chicks.

They were all inside when I arrived but quickly appeared outside when I called. As it has been very wet the last few days, we have kept their food inside the nest box. Geoff, who fed the chickens for us the last couple of days, had the excellent idea of putting a heavy rock into the bottom of the food bowl to stop them knocking it over. I topped up their food with the last of the bag of chick crumb. The chicks are now two weeks old and are growing in confidence. White Leghorn chicks seem to mature and grow at a rapid rate compared to any previous chicks we’ve had.

Walking back from the broody coop, I spotted that Sarah, Liz and Andy had arrived. I pottered across to see whether the pigeon was still there. Sarah said it stayed on their plot for a good while after I left on Thursday evening. They Googled how to help a lost racing pigeon. What they read suggested a bowl of corn and a separate bowl of water to drink. Fortunately, Geoff was doing his evening check of his chickens and donated a scoop of mixed corn to help the pigeon. It seemed to enjoy the corn and water. The website also said to remove the food after 24 hours to encourage the bird to continue to fly home. Between them they had caught the bird and recorded its leg ring number. This morning, they looked for the pigeon, now named Charles, and couldn’t find him. The logical assumption was that he had flown home. It was great news.

Remembering I had brought down the latest parcel of plants for the bog garden pond, I left to chicks to go on a hunt for a couple of spare bricks to put the plant pots on. A mere few minutes sufficed to find what I needed and I put in a beautiful deep purple water lily and a stunning white and purple iris. Unfortunately, the bog garden pump wasn’t working. I tried cleaning the solar panel but with no luck. I put it in the shed to take home and fix.

After dropping off the pump, I went down to talk to Geoff who was sitting in his coop enjoying his morning pipe. I mentioned that my husband was picking up more chicken supplies and asked if he needed anything. I rang my husband and added Geoff’s order to ours. It’s a real community on site and we all help each other out, even if it’s just something simple like picking up an extra bag of chicken pellets. Whilst we were talking, a pigeon landed on the coop roof. I didn’t take much notice at first. Then as it looked down at the ground, it spotted some stray corn from the chickens on the floor. Jumping down, it started to devour the corn. It struck me that the bird looked familiar. Very familiar in fact.

Of course, it was Charles. Geoff said that it had been on his plot all day yesterday. So 48 hours after getting stuck in the hedge, it still hasn’t managed to get itself back home. I knew from a colleague at work that responsible pigeon owners stamp their name and contact information on the wings of their birds. But first I had to catch it. It clearly was used to people because it wasn’t fussed when I got close but equally it wasn’t going to simply let me pick it up. I decided to distract it with more corn then nab it when it had its head in the bowl. I picked up Charles on the third attempt. He was not impressed. I can’t claim that I know how to hold a professional racing pigeon but I knew enough from handling our chicks to hold it without damaging it. Before I did anything else, I carefully pulled open a wing to check if there was anything stamped on the wing. Thankfully, there was a name and a mobile phone number. I hollered to Sarah that I had caught the bird and that I needed her to call the number on the bird.

She appeared with her phone and typed in the number as I wrestled with Charles who by now had decided he had been held for quite long enough. Although no one answered the phone the first time Sarah called, the owner answered when she called again a few minutes later. It turned out that they had expected it home a couple of days ago and had no idea where it had got lost. The owner said he would drive across to the allotment and pick it up. After giving Charles a stroke, we let him loose knowing we could catch him again later. Sensing freedom, he leapt into the air, aiming to perch on top of the fencing panel Sarah and Liz are using to grow beans up. Charles was close, but he didn’t make it. We all hoped this was due to weakness not injury. Andy quickly reached down and caught Charles and handed him back to me. Liz then helpfully walked with me to my shed and dug out the pet carrier. That carrier has been worth its weight in gold this year! First Jack the Jackdaw, now Charles the Racing Pigeon. We settled in him inside, adding a bowl of water and a pot of mixed corn. Sarah said she would let me know when the owner arrived and we would hand Charles over. Phil swung by and said hello, mentioning that some pigeon owners kill birds who don’t return home. It’s not a nice thought that we had rescued Charles only for that to happen to him. We decided we would check that Charles would be safe before handing him over. Tracy and Bradley came over to see him. Brad immediately turned to his mum asking if he could have one. The one word answer was short. I’ll leave you to guess what it was. I told Tracy and Brad about the new pond plants and they went down to see them.

By now the water lily had been in the pond for about an hour. I expected it to look exactly the same. But instead, it had raised the leaf so it was half out of the water, into its proper position. Clearly the water lily prefers the bog garden pond to being transported via the post! We then went over to look at Tracy’s pond where I was amazed to see how many water snails were there. Some were absolutely miniscule! Tracy has only had that pond for a similar amount of time as our big one. I wondered aloud whether we might have any baby water snails in our pond. Tracy said she was sure we would have. So we all traipsed back to my pond. Sure enough, there were a couple of tiny snails on the wall of the pond. I couldn’t believe it. Although I knew we would attract wildlife with a pond, I had no idea that it would begin so soon. We only had half a dozen snails in there and I suspect we will soon have more than we can count!

I bumped into Phil just as the rain started. He had made a massive batch of black currant jam and kindly gave us a jar. It looks amazing and I can’t wait to try it for supper this evening! Phil also dropped over some wax, drill bits and other oddments from his attempt at growing mushrooms several years ago. The instructions he had to grow his mushrooms are quite different from the ones on the website where I ordered our dowels from. I wonder whether it will make any difference? We haven’t had our dowels arrive yet which is good as we are picking up some logs tomorrow to grow them on.

I pottered back down to the chickens and collected a late egg from Pop. As I was in the coop, my husband appeared with several hundred weight of chicken food. We put our two bags in the shed (layers pellets and black sunflower seeds) and Phil helped cart Geoff’s supplies to his coop. My husband then went to drop the car home whilst I waited for the pigeon man to arrive. Half an hour later, Sarah appeared to say he was almost in Crewe so we picked up Charles and headed to the main gate. Ten minutes went by and no car pulled up. Odd. Eventually, Sarah had a call from the owner to say he couldn’t find the allotment and was stuck somewhere over Wistaston way. She gave him some directions and we waited another ten minutes. He still didn’t appear.

Wondering whether he was ever going to find us, Sarah called to find his car had just broken down. She offered to drive across to him with Charles, an offer he was glad to accept. I asked Sarah if I could join her and we dashed off to the car park. I think Charles must be used to travelling by car because he made no fuss at all the entire journey. I had the pet carrier on my lap and I kept checking on him. He seemed absolutely fine and even had a snack as we drove along!

We found the owner on Broadleigh Way in a car packed with the entire family. He was delighted to have Charles back. It turns out he has nearly 200 racing pigeons and Charles is one of their youngest ones who is still in training. They lost another young bird this week too. Although Charles has lost weight, the owner said there was nothing wrong with him which was a relief. He was also very complimentary about how we had looked after him which was lovely. So Charles will spend two weeks confined in his enclosure, being nursed back to full health. I checked with the owner that he didn’t kill lost birds and he says he never does. In fact, he has previously driven to Derby and Burnley to pick up his lost birds! He clearly provides excellent care for his birds and proudly told us one of his birds came 12th in a race out of over 4,400 birds last week. I don’t know anything about pigeon racing but it all sounds rather exciting!

Sarah then drove us back home, both of us pleased that we had done our bit to help Charles. We have decided to keep the owners phone number just in case another bird gets lost on site!

Tomorrow we will be picking up some more logs for the stumpery. A friend has a beautiful coppice woodland and has been taking down a few trees and has offered us a selection of different types of logs, one of which is oak! If the weather is dry over the next few days, I will be able to complete the main path on our plot too.

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